Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Topix | Online, small-town gossip turns vicious

From a New York Times story about social media site Topix. Gannett owns about 34% of the company, which is based in Silicon Valley's Palo Alto, through a partnership including McClatchy Co. and Tribune Co. The NYT's A.G. Sulzberger writes:

In Hyden, Ky. (population 365), the local Topix forum had 107 visitors at the same time one afternoon this month. They encountered posts about the school system, a new restaurant and local arrests, as well as the news articles and political questions posted by Topix.

But more typical were the unsubstantiated posts that identified by name an employee at a dentist’s office as a home wrecker with herpes, accused a gas station attendant of being a drug dealer, and said a 13-year-old girl was “preggo by her mommy’s man.” Many allegations were followed with promises of retribution to whoever started the post.

Topix CEO Chris Tolles acknowledged the biggest problem at the site is “keeping the conversation on the rails.” But he defended it on free-speech grounds. He said the comments are funny to read, make private gossip public, provide a platform for “people who have negative things to say” and are better for business.

At one point, he said, the company tried to remove all negative posts, but it stopped after discovering that commenters had stopped visiting the site. “This is small-town America,” he said. “The voices these guys are hearing are of their friends and neighbors.”

[Updated at 1:49 p.m. ET Sept. 21.] In a post on The Rural Blog, former Courier-Journal reporter Al Cross writes:

"That's about enough, Mr. Tolles. You and your newspaper paymasters (Gannett Co., the McClatchy Co. and Tribune Co.) are hereby invited to take your foul product out of rural America. And perhaps newspapers in towns where Topix draws many readers should ask themselves if that's partly because they don't turn over enough rocks and/or run vigorous editorial pages that inspire responsible debate."

Earlier: Under new comments policy, Gannett readers clam up.


  1. Damn, thought for sure you were talking about this blog. (my word verification "ballness" !)

  2. Torches and pitchforks!!!

  3. Ha! Great response, 8:13.

    Try as you might, Jim, you're still a mangy polecat for allowing the stuff you allow. You keep making excuses, but those change nothing.

  4. The problem of small town gossip on Topix is just a case study in how one population is affected by Topix. Search engines treat fabricated stories on Topix with the same relevance that they treat legitimate news and as a result, abusive posts on Topix (especially using people's real names and placed in their town forum) will override google searches that bring up legitimate profiles (likedin, Facebook, spoke, etc). Defamation in a big city is just as damaging because Topix posts are very findable. Political debates occur on all forums, not just Topix and as best as I can tell the political discussions there often just sling rumors about some candidates illegitimate affairs. The supposedly unique benefits of Topix do not seem compelling nor even the empirical result and the destruction continually occurring on Topix far outweighs any occasional interesting discourse.


Jim says: "Proceed with caution; this is a free-for-all comment zone. I try to correct or clarify incorrect information. But I can't catch everything. Please keep your posts focused on Gannett and media-related subjects. Note that I occasionally review comments in advance, to reject inappropriate ones. And I ignore hostile posters, and recommend you do, too."

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